Saturday, March 2, 2024

20th PHNet | De La Salle connects to the Internet

By Kelsey Hartigan-Go


(Editor?s note: We are re-publishing the recollections of the early days of the Internet in the Philippines by the people who were there to witness history unfold. These posts first appeared in the 20PHNET Facebook page, which was created to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Internet in the country on March 29.)

It all started with a phone call to the College of Computer Studies of De La Salle University. I don’t know how it got to me, perhaps that the admin staff of the College did not know what he needed, and it fell to my lap. This was my first conversation with Joel Disini, and that was mid-1990. I was preparing to go to Brighton Polytechnic in UK and he just came from the US. He figured that probably the best people to contact in terms of computer technology would be the universities.

At that time, I was a systems operator for the VAX 8350. At the same time, [I was just] a newly promoted as head of the Computer Facilities & Operations of a three-man team. I had just set up the campus-wide Ethernet network, and was just beginning to explore the possibility of hooking up to international academic networks such as BITNET and CSNET.

So I was interested particularly in what Joel Disini was saying about the domains and Internet. At that time, I don’t have a clue of what a domain is. But what struck me as interesting is that he was offering email to the Internet service.

Interestingly, my trip to the UK was a very educational experience. I was able to see first hand what an academic network is all about, the access to information, access to Unix source codes, found out was Usenet was about, and even got to vote for the creation of the new usenet group soc.culture.filipino, or scf for short. Prior to SCF, most of the Filipinos online were in soc.culture.asian.

After coming back from the UK, I immediately contacted Joel Disini to set up a link to his services. At that time, connectivity wasn’t cheap. Initially, I was using my PABX telephone line and connect it to the modem and a Xenix 286 machine with a 40 MB HD. The machine name was cscnix. It was February of 1991. Using a local line has some issues, as it had call waiting, the beeps keep on disconnecting the modems.

I couldn’t recall how others (the rest of Internet community) learned about the availability of Internet email of DLSU, but on February 27, I received a couple of emails, one from a former colleague at the Computer Services Center and another student of DLSU, both taking up their graduate studies in University of California Riverside and Stanford University respectively.

Eventually the rest of the Internet at that time got wind of DLSU’s connection through these posting: Lito Lopez’s SCF posting and Horacio T. Cadiz posting (which also showcased the DLSU/ADMU rivalry).

Internet email did not come cheap. The cost would be P15/2.5 KB/email, sent and received. P15 isn’t cheap at that time, as I recall 1 liter of gas was less than that (I started driving in 1992 actually and gas prices was around P9.00 per liter). Apart from that, there is a P300 monthly service fee.

Furthermore, there was no guarantee of confidentiality. At that time I didn’t know better. The way it works was that Joel Disini was using his AppleLink account ( as an email gateway.

To send a message to the DLSU, it needs to be addressed to the Joel’s applelink account with the first line of the message containing Attn: Kelsey Hartigan. For sending emails, the syntax in DLSU was quite complex as I had to address it via prs to uunet, i.e. prs!uunet!

Joel Disini then connects to his account twice a day to send and receive emails. A processor then parsed the first line for the recipient and it spools it to the uucp mailbox waiting for us to dial in and downloads.

At most, your email is delayed once a day. In this set up, Joel Disini can technically read each and every email received or sent, and I was likewise the postmaster for DLSU — all emails sent and received was using by cscnix account. I was routing personal messages from alumni and faculty members taking up their graduate studies abroad. (And this was between teaching, heading the computer facilities and operations department in DLSU, as well as taking up graduate studies in the evenings).

Sometime within 1991, I switched from cscnix to a VAXstation 2000 workstation running Ultrix. The reason escaped me for the moment, perhaps it was due to a hard disk crash that took me time to recover. Nevertheless, the VAXstation 2000 was running on a 2 user Ultrix license with 6 MB of memory (which I later hacked to accommodate more users, but that is another story), there wasn’t much use for it, so I relegated that to be an email gateway.

Also there weren’t many books about Unix and TCP/IP so I was totally clueless on how to set that up, especially BIND. But with exposure to DECnet on the VAX/VMS, we used this protocol to route email to our main VAX facility (an 8350 running VMS 4.7), where most of the accounts were.

Email addressing was cumbersome , as it was routed via DECnet to the VAXstation 2000 then via UUCP to PRS (i.e. vxstn1::”prs!uunet!emailaddres”). Eventually, Sammy Mallare was able to get TCP/IP working (yeah — he RTFMs and I don’t).

However, as I was reading the old email archives, I remembered that not all messages do get through. This caused some inconveniences with email conversations in case an email was missed. For instance, with our regular correspondences with Brighton Polytechnic, we had to devise a message logging to know if and when a message has been missing.

Sending email was also a pain. Since the DNS wasn’t totally functioning, our users have the cumbersome DECnet/UUCP addressing schemes. Eventually, by October 1991, Joel Disini upgraded the system to use domain names and DLSU got the domain name.

UUCP connection is also possible, but at a higher cost of P25.00/email. But eventually, Joel Disini decided to shift to uucp and junk the Applelink gateway by Jan 1992, all because Applelink is raising their prices.

Sometime in 1991, Emma Teodoro, the dean of the College of Computer Studies asked me to join a group in Ateneo de Manila with regard to a network project. The meeting was called by Arnie del Rosario, the counterpart of Emma Teodoro from the Loyola campus.

Apparently, Arnie del Rosario was given a grant by Dr. Bill Torres, then head of the National Computer Center, to come up with study on how the Philippines can be connected to the Internet.

The project team was composed of Arnie del Rosario as project head, Al Villarica (the son of Dr. Rodolfo Villarica who would later be called on to help in establishing Phnet) representing Ateneo. For the life of me I cannot remember who the UP rep was, but correct me if I’m wrong — I think Dr. Elizier Albacea represented UPLB.

The study mainly focused on what are the services that would be needed, and then rate them as ?needed?, ?highly desirable?, or ?not needed?. It also covered how the different schools can be interconnected. Although the project was completed, it did not result to an output as by that time Bill Torres was no longer in NCC.

He would later surface to join in the discussion with Phnet (formerly Philnet) and suggested to get connected to Sprintlink. Later, would I find out why Sprintlink — NSF has a grant for developing countries for interconnection to Internet.

It is only befitting that Dr. Bill Torres should be called the Grandfather of Philippine Internet.


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